- The Washington Times - Friday, October 27, 2000

The new Christian Democratic leadership in Germany has barely had time to learn to walk since taking over this spring, and already it is breaking up. Ruprecht Polenz, the opposition party's number two under Angela Merkel, resigned Monday in another move that showed the party's inability to gain direction since it was rocked by a party financing scandal last year. The question is how much housekeeping the CDU will have to do before they will find it.

The resignation of the reform-minded politician came in the middle of a controversial debate within the CDU over the place immigration policy should have in the party's 2002 campaign platform. More important than political style during this leadership transition remains the unanswered question of what policies the CDU is aggressively willing to pursue.

In her acceptance speech last spring, the CDU leader indicated immigration was an important issue to be addressed by the party, and Mr. Polenz believes that immigrants are a needed force in Germany's economy. But now the party's far-right personalities are attempting to run with the topic in a direction that the new leadership's moderates should be uncomfortable with.

Enter Friedrich Merz, the parliamentary leader of the CDU and its sister party, the Christian Social Union. After a presidium meeting on Friday, Mr. Merz wanted to make immigration policy the central campaign issue in 2002. Catering to the far-right tendencies in the party, he stressed that immigrants must conform to the "model German culture" or "deutsche Leitkultur" and that caps should be placed on the yearly number to prevent endangering the native population.

A paper put forward in the meeting maintaining Germany was a pro-immigrant country where "the boat is not yet full" was dismissed because it was not deemed capable of winning consensus. For there to be such disunity over immigration in a party that considers itself fully modernized and in touch with its grassroots population is preposterous.

The CDU cannot expect to enjoy the prominence it enjoyed for 16-years under former Chancellor Helmut Kohl if it caters to an anti-immigrant agenda. The only way forward for the new face of Germany's leadership is for its moderates to unify around a platform of fighting extremism in all forms.

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